Managing creative professionals within a corporation is a unique challenge and an art. As a creative leader you must guide your creative team members within the company's one-size-fits-all HR and management policies; salary grades; and compensation guidelines. You will need to find an effective balance within the boundaries of corporate policy while giving your team "artistic license" within the corporate structure.

It is difficult to find managers with the know-how to effectively guide, direct, motivate and communicate to creative teams. Similarly, it requires a special talent to keep creative people energized while they cope with the pressures of being creative on-demand, meeting deadlines and creating communication products that help your company achieve its business goals.

Every company views creativity and creative freedom differently, and creatives will express their own points of view in their art, their words and their personal approach to communicating. This is a plus for organizations who want to look for new ways of approaching visual content and messaging. Blending brand guidelines, direction from management and creative minds can be a combination for brilliant marketing success.

Creative People: What Makes them Tick?

Creative people are often viewed as dreamers who can easily get caught up in their own worlds. They are generally highly intelligent who use their emotions, rather than logic to make decisions. However, most overlook the fact that creativity requires strategic thinking and planning. Creatives blend looking at the world through a creative lens with a propensity to think deeply about how to communicate that vision.

Creative people:

  • Are complex and often behave in contradictory ways. They are generally constructively discontented. Understand that what may look like play to you may actually be the way an individual processes information.

  • Are emotionally involved, intensely-absorbed and devote enormous amounts of energy to their work. Don't judge their creative output on a day-to-day basis. As with any work, taking time to recharge and regroup is invaluable. Some days are simply more “productive” than others. Remember, productivity is also represented by the thought process that all creative work requires.

  • Are driven by exciting work more than a paycheck. They look for interesting, challenging and stimulating creative projects.  Creative people are highly intelligent, and their currency is solving complex communication problems.They need their work to have a larger goal, mission and purpose.

  • Are independent thinkers who use their entire arsenal of problem-solving skills and intellect to translate complex ideas into practical business solutions. Understand that everyone's creative thought process is different. Want to know more? Ask questions of your creative team members. They can explain where their process and organizational objectives merge.

Creative People Have a Different Way of Working

Creative work such as writing and design requires periods of uninterrupted focus and concentration. Creative people often have a special place they go to in order to focus on creative work, away from the endless stream of emails, phone calls, instant messages and other distractions that interfere with their concentration. In addition, creative people:

  • Cannot always choose when or where they create. They may keep odd hours because ideas come to them outside of standard business hours. Creativity comes in spurts and is rarely continuous. So, watch for burnout, and prevent it before it happens. Also, be mindful of workloads. Demanding fresh, creative initiatives requires time and space. Allow for enough room for your creatives to pivot between projects to facilitate the discovery of fresh ideas.

  • May sometimes spend large amounts of time brainstorming, analyzing and filtering information. So, establish and monitor deadlines to help them with their time management. Help them learn that sometimes a "B+" is good enough.

  • Get their inspiration at unusual times, in unusual places and from unusual sources. So, allow them as much flexibility as possible. To balance this with ongoing work demands, you can also have “creative check-ins” that could serve as brainstorming sessions or to gather status updates. This can help managers take a pulse of where projects stand while also allowing creatives the flexibility they need to create.

What Motivates (or Demotivates) Right-Brained People?

Traditional management tactics like "wearing your stripes" to exercise your authority or to command their respect will be a turn- off to creatives. And, using the "stick-and-carrot" method of motivation will usually backfire. Rather, creative leaders need to create an atmosphere that encourages experimentation and stimulates creativity within loose boundaries. 

In addition, creative people:

  • Dislike being policed. They are happiest and most productive when they are given autonomy and little or no supervision. Coach, ask thoughtful questions and give guidance, but don't micromanage.

  • Have an aversion to routine mundane tasks and repetitive type work. They loathe paperwork or busy work. If possible, assign administrative staff to handle day-to-day functions.

  • Work best in an atmosphere of freedom and flexibility. Allow them to work remotely and offer them flex time or comp time whenever possible--within reason. Remember the earlier note about getting inspired at off times? This is what that looks like.

  • Are influenced by their physical surroundings. The "corporate cubical" is counter-productive to the collaborative creative process. The best in-office work space is an open design of work "zones" with a common space to allow for collaborative synergy. In some places, offices are moving to a “cafe” or “lounge” look – providing the opportunity for a more relaxed workspace and opportunities for spreading out, moving around and rearranging sight lines. If possible, enable your creatives to design their workspace.

  • Are motivated by the interest, satisfaction and challenge of the work, as well as stimulating co-workers and managers. Identify new projects that are especially creative that will make a positive difference/impact for the corporation. Let your creatives jump in — you’ll be amazed at their creativity!

Successful Managers of Creative People

Managers, you have a role to play in the creative success of your team. When leading your creative team members, keep these guidelines in mind:

  • Respect individual differences and embrace constructive nonconformity, individuality and diversity. They understand that creative people have different values and currency. Get to know your different creative team members, and tailor motivation to their individual needs.

  • Understand and live the creative process through professional hands-on knowledge and expertise. They know how to get the best out of creative people within the process. Seek to understand the nature of creativity.

  • Boost self-confidence and provide inspiration to their creative staff in the form of support and encouragement of their ideas. Fuel creative energy of the team instead of trying to stop or control it.

  • Take calculated risks and have managerial courage. They aren't afraid of making mistakes or trying different things. They push the envelope of corporate boundaries to find innovative ways to inspire and foster creativity within their teams. Don't accept status quo as an option. Give your team members the freedom to explore what’s new and next. Blaze a trail!

  • Foster all-inclusive organizations that aren't looking for "yes men." They involve their staff in planning department policy and decision-making. They build and develop a culture that encourages openness and collaboration: They want to hear from everyone, and they respect the ideas, questions and approaches of others. Consider implementing a quarterly incentive program that recognizes the quality and innovation efforts of your team members.

  • Know how to communicate with creative people and understand their language. The right-brained professional may communicate differently than a left-brained professional might. The creative person often uses the essence of words versus their exact meaning. Coach them how to communicate clearly and effectively and translate their thoughts into business/corporate-speak. While creatives value and are energized by nuance, their counterparts thrive on straightforward explanations. Both bring value to the workplace, so find a way to maximize both perspectives.

  • Give credit and recognition. Creative people usually need it. They need to know and hear that the work they created has value to you as their leader. They need professional, management and peer recognition of their efforts and achievements. When you have the opportunity to offer praise for their work in all-staff meetings or in front of executive leadership, do so. This highlights not only the outstanding work of your creatives but reinforces the knowledge that you as the manager have chosen the best professionals for the job. Consider submitting your team members’  work (writing, print and Web/interactive design) into competitive industry award competitions.

Managing creative professionals within corporate boundaries can be challenging as well as rewarding. Your creatives want to create the best work possible. When you effectively motivate and channel their creative energy toward your company's business goals, you and your creative team will achieve outstanding results.